"Have you ever read the Three Musketeers?"
"The book by Alexandre Dumas," she said. "The Three Musketeers."
He stirred. She could still feel his arm underneath her body, pinned against the bed. IT had been there for hours. She wondered if it had fallen asleep.
"Can't say that I have, gorgeous. At least, not properly." he murmured. "What time is it?"
She ignored his question.
"The book was published as a periodical in a French magazine by Alexandre Dumas and a friend who co-authored."
"Fantatastic," he said, freeing his pinned arm and stretching it, wiggling his fingers. It had been asleep. She wondered why he'd never said. "Did you say what the time was?"
"The book is famously ninety per cent dialogue. It's almost a play."
"Megara," he said testily. She loved it when he used her full name. "If you're not going to tell me, do you know where my watch is?"
"You know," she continued as though she had not heard him. "The Musketeers are strange creatures."
"Besides them being French? I always found that pretty strange."
He threw back the duvet, and she felt him recoil against the cold of her room. The cocoon broken, she felt the cold air strike her naked body and the smell of sex was strong in the gust of air created by his movements.
"No," she smiled, "No, I mean they don't fit in their own universe."
"That sounds like poor writing to me." He was now distractedly searching for the single pair of socks he'd left unpacked.
"You never were a writer."
"Point taken." He smiled at her briefly as he laid hands upon all his belongings scattered around her rooms. His clothing was entangled with hers, and his collection of his own articles took him from the foot of the bed towards her window, his entry point the night before.
"Porthos, Athos and Aramis were aerial beings," She said softly. "They didn't fit their own Universe. Wealth and riches slipped right through their frivolous hands. They were famous, yet nobody knew them. They were politically favoured, but sought no power. We see nothing of their personal lives but the briefest glance of Athos' private chamber."
"And what was in it?"
She could tell by his tone that he was humouring her, though whether it was an attempt to not appear churlish after last night or genuine thought for her feelings she wasn't sure.
"Nothing. Nothing worth mentioning but an old sword that Athos never moved and swore would only be picked up were he ever to leave the lodgings."
"Must have been pretty valuable."
"Only to Athos."
"Was it a family thing?"
"Well there you are then. You know it's four thirty? I need to leave in half an hour. My flight is at eight and they do insist upon me being at check in two hours before take-off. They do so love making sure that I'm not carrying a piece of sharp plastic or some explosive fluid. Or," he smiled at her, "a sword."
She surveyed him seriously in the half light of the summer dawn. Standing naked in front of her window she could see only his silhouette, but she sensed her gaze had unsettled him. He came back to the bed and dropped his bundle of clothes and personal effects at his feet as he sat at hers.
"Is something wrong, Meg?"
"Women." She stated simply.
"Women didn't stick to the musketeers either. They had them at their pleasure, could take them or leave them, and formed no special bond with any. They were loved but never returned the feeling."
Her eyes had dropped to her knees. Something in the last sentence had sounded lame and inadequate when spoken aloud. She sensed him shift uncomfortably and heard him take in a breath as though about to speak. He didn't. Instead he stood and began to dress.
"They sound like interesting characters. Wasn't there 4 by the end though? It seems a silly name for a book when the main character whom also is the narrator makes the title redundant."
"No, the main characters name. He's not the narrator either. And he's never a musketeer. Not a real one, anyway. He becomes politically powerful, rich beyond his wildest dreams and he falls in love. And he never stops hero-worshipping the other three."
Silence. It stretched on and was broken only by the rustle of his clothing as it covered his body, making the reverse of the journey it had last night. The buttons from his shirt that had been hastily torn because they refused to yield fast enough were skipped over.
"Typical," he had growled into her mouth between harsh, toothy kisses, "the one time I wear a good shirt."
He wasn't in the habit of dressy clothes, she knew. In the two weeks her home had been his, she'd only ever seen him in lazy jeans and loose shirts or t-shirts and hoodies. He was the same at home, five thousand miles east, and his return there was imminent. Yesterday had been his last day in the States, and Meg's parents had seen fit to throw an elaborate house-do to celebrate the enjoyable stay by their British guest. It had been a mutual pleasure, both for him to enjoy their hospitality and Meg's family enjoying his company.
He had taken Meg everywhere in her hometown over the last fortnight. Even the most mundane and routine journey had been far more fun with him, and what was she to return to now? She wasn't looking forward to the return to car rides without him and the hours of Skype calls spent on him every week. She knew she sounded pathetic, and all too much like a pre-feminism movement heroine. But every attempt she made to chide herself brought her thought full circle to last night, when she had staggered tiredly to her third floor room, having hugged him goodnight at the guest room door three floors below. She had promised to wake him at four for a quick breakfast and a chance to make sure everything was packed before she drove him to the airport. After reaching her room, prying off her heels and dress and slipping into her shorts and tank, she had been removing make up when she heard the rustle outside her window.
Living in the same room for so many years, even college away from home doesn't dull you to sounds that don't fit. The tree outside her window often creaked in the wind, but never in the rhythmic back and forth way it did now. Meg had panicked and a scream for her father was at the back of her throat when his face appeared at the sill. He'd hauled himself in, landing in an ungraceful heap at her feet, and stood. He had taken one long, full look at her. She had felt herself redden where he glanced, turned away when he saw her naked face, her plain clothing, and melted when he had stepped forward, swept an arm around her waist and told her she was more beautiful than he had ever seen her. He'd stolen the first kiss from her lips, and she'd suddenly wished he'd done it 14 days ago. The second made her wish he'd done it 3 years ago. She hadn't been completely inexperienced, but had felt it in his arms. She knew he was promiscuous, that much she'd teased him about for the last few years, but she hadn't expected the night to be so different from her previous encounters with guys at college. It was a full three hours before any rational thought had returned to either of them. The first rational thought she had had since his entry into her window is that he had a girlfriend. The second was that he was no D'artagnan.
And thus here she was, her arms curled around her drawn up knees as she watched him move around the room preparing himself for a 17 hour flight home to his family, his degree. His girlfriend. She felt pathetic. She'd made a fool of herself with her veiled omission of love and she knew it. Their friendship was special in that they had flirted and teased and joked about sex so much for 3 years that one encounter would not have ruined anything. Hell, she thought, it would probably have just become banter they could have used and laughed about on Skype when they returned to the norm. By slipping love into the equation, she could see she had frightened him, maybe even disgusted him. Somehow his girlfriend and his infidelity didn't cross her mind as more than something which kept him from being hers. The poor girl was not a person to Meg, not a girl like her who probably felt similar feelings for this man, but a thing, a barrier, something she thought about with annoyance rather than jelousy. Such thoughts made her hate herself even more.
"I can't do ties," he said suddenly. She jumped at the sound of his voice, he had been silent so long. He had his back to her, facing her full length mirror. His face was poorly lit, but she could just make out concentration and frustration as he fumbled with the knot at his throat.
"You're wearing a tie for a 17 hour flight?" she feebly joked. He stuck his tongue out into the mirror and she smiled weakly.
"There may be an attractive stewardess into the more sophisticated young entrepreneur."
"Who flies economy and reads science fiction novels?"
"Oooooh," he mimed a slap, "I don't think I like your prejudice, lady."
She threw the covers off herself and stood. She saw his reaction in the mirror. The bad tie knot bulged as he swallowed several times, and his hands faltered in his attempts to correct the tie. She smirked at him, as she had smirked into the mirror last night as he stood behind her and removed the last wisp of cotton from her hips. She could tell he was thinking about it too, and his dress pants suddenly began to look uncomfortably tight.
She sauntered over to him, the look on his face empowering her once more. The want and the need she saw there made her self-loathing nothing but an unwanted little voice at the back of her head. So what, her mind said more boldly now, so what if he has a lady? Right now he has me. He needs me. I'm in control. This handsome, witty man wants me and nobody else. She knew the little voice would return soon, but for now she heard only the bold voice telling her to sway her hips as she walked to him.
"Look at you," she muttered when she was close. "Nineteen years of age and can't even do a simple Windsor knot."
"My hands," he whispered close to her ear, "are skilled in other ways."
"Average," She smirked.
She knew the taunt would goad him as it did. His hands fell to her naked waist and he tilted her head forcefully as he pressed a passionate kiss into her lips. Their mouths crashed and clashed for dominance for what felt to Meg like a blissful eternity before he finally pulled away.
"Look," he smirked drily, "my tie is done."
"I multitask," she grinned.
"Megara…" he muttered, his lips still close to hers.
"I know," she whispered. She let her head fall against his chest. "I know."
"No, Meg, I –"
"Please, Arthur. You don't need to tell me. Please don't humiliate me any more than I already have myself. Last night was wonderful, but-"
She glanced up into her eyes, looking for the relief she knew she was granting him, and saw instead nothing. His face was impassive, and he watched her carefully, his eyes prompting her to finish her thought.
"- but you have your lady back home and all I've ever wanted is to be friends. You're my best friend, Arthur, and no amount of distance or fantastic sex is going to change that."
She giggled at her own indelicacy, and expected him to do likewise and for everything to return to how it had been the night before. She had supressed her feelings, let him off the hook about her love, and was setting him free back to England, where she was sure his ladyfriend was waiting for him at the airport 17 hours from now. She smiled at him, and saw a moment's hesitation before he grinned widely and slapped her on her bare ass.
"Glad that's sorted. All that musketeer nonsense, I thought you were building me up into some demi-god, impractical creature to whom you were going to confess an undying love."
They both laughed, and she wondered if she could sense that his laugh was as forced as hers. She put it down to her imagination.
Fifteen minutes later they were in the car. The awkwardness in her room had been dispersed along with the thin dawn mist as the sun began its climb in the sky. The highway, as Meg had assured her friend over the briefest breakfast of toast and grapefruit (something he had discovered and learned to hate in her home), was empty and they would be in plenty of time. Her parents had made a special effort to rise and say goodbye to their guest, and he had thanked them graciously and charmingly, giving each a host gift before departing. Meg's mother had swept in and kissed him on the cheek, and her father had given him a grudging handshake, something he'd refused to do before that point. Meg thought Arthur looked more pleased with that than he had at the crescendo of their activity last night. It was only as she had stood on the kitchen that she wondered if she had been so loud that her parents heard. The thought made her blush.
Arthur was in the passenger seat of the car, and was completely the opposite of the mood when they had made the reverse of this trip 2 weeks ago. He was lethargic now, making easy and comfortable small talk, but reserved in showing any emotion. Quite the change from the excited gibberish about all the American girls he was going to bang and all the Taco Bell he was going to eat that he had been bouncing up and down and shouting about when she had found him, suitcase in tow, two weeks ago.
"D'Artagnan," Arthur said after a pause, "professed that he loved three women."
His gaze was fixedly locked on a point on the horizon out of the passenger window.
"You have read the book?" she asked teasingly.
"I wouldn't say that. It was the set text for my English exam 3 years back, and I crammed. All that English arty stuff was never me."
She knew that to be true. Her own degree was central around the literary arts while his was as far opposed as could be, in the field of the physical sciences.
"How'd you do?"
"A low B."
She smiled at him. "Well, yes, D'Artagnan professes to love three women. The mercer's wife, Milady and Kitty. What's so special about that?"
He thought about his answer. Both let the miles slip by while he continued to gaze at the point on the horizon.
"Would you say that he truly loved any of them?"
"Deep shit there, Art. Was that your question or something? Are you trying to pick my brains on why you didn't get the result you wanted?"
"Something like that," he said, and turned to face her. "What do you think, O great literary goddess?"
She stuck out her tongue.
"Well, Kitty controlled him. I think he was more in love with the idea of the mercer's wife. Milady was mysterious and unattainable and thus desirable."
"So, yes, I suppose he loved all three of them in their own way."
Arthur pondered this.
"I think he's a bit of a pleb."
Meg laughed. "Says Arthur, the biggest man slut in all of London. Don't you profess love to any pretty girl whose bedchamber you clamber into?"
"Only to the ones I don't mean it."
The rest of the journey passed in silence.
"Well, here we are," Meg said, "and you can now start pushing your own fucking trolley because my duties as a hostess are done, done done. I can finally shower without locking the door again."
"I'm sure that was a huge trial for you, tramp."
She wheeled the trolley to the check in gate and joined the queue with her friend. It wasn't long, so she suspected he would be through the process of checking in by just after 6 and from there would be beyond her reach and thus as far away as England already. Five thousand miles in a single step, enforced by a security guard convinced that every single person present had a bomb taped to their genitals.
"Think you'll be in England anytime soon?" he asked, shuffling forward to fill the gap as the world's most efficient check in clerk robbed the pair of their last moments together.
"Next summer, I think. If your family will have me."
"I'll have a word. I'm sure we can put up with a little bit of rebel scum for a short time."
She hit him lightly on the arm and chided him about the dangers of America bashing within earshot of so many 'Muricans'. Before either of the two could believe it, Arthur was at the check-in desk, being stamped with all sorts of stamps and his bag taken from him and placed on a conveyer. The clerk signalled him to a door to the right, and he took a step towards it. He paused. With a quick smile and some words that Meg was too far away to hear he turned back to her and began walking, to the annoyance of everyone in the queue behind.
"We said our goodbyes already," he mocked, "were you going to stand and wave to my plane?"
"Clearly, Arthur, I wanted every last glimpse of you before you disappeared through those doors forever more. My loins and heart are calling out for your touch again."
He smiled, and it was the purest and genuine showing of affection she had ever seen. Three years of careful wordplay, mocking sentiments and half-fake promises fell away, and the two simply stood, inches apart. Megara felt the tears welling up, the tears she had tried to withhold until he was gone from her view, the tears that would cloud her vision on the highway later, the tears that she knew he would mock her for later, and she would love him all the more for it. How did one, express all of those hopes for the future, a future together, despite the distance, despite all the odds, despite his fleeting nature and her own? He leaned forward, and she parted her lips for the kiss, closing the distance between them. She felt the peck on her cheek, and the single splash on the inside of her nose of her single tear.
He shoved a piece of paper into her hand and closed it, then said.
"Goodbye, Megara, and thank you for having me."
Without another word, he turned and walked quickly towards the terminal door to customs, quickly shaking his head at the check in clerk who pouted chidingly before glancing at Meg and smiling. She then beckoned the next flier forward and began her whirlwind of stamps and signing anew.
Megara walked back to her car in a daze, determined to be alone and as far from public as she could be when the inevitable happened. The inadequate goodbye confirmed all her fears of scaring him off earlier, and every hope she had raised by his strange behaviour had been truly and thoroughly crushed. The kiss burned on her cheek, and she wished he had never returned from the check-in desk to her. She wished they had made the hug as they waited in the queue their last moment together, maybe a brief wave as he walked through the door to leave her with a little hope, to think all his mysterious words were not simply her overthinking and overanalysing every point because of her love. She opened her car door, dropped behind the wheel and cried. She cried for the unfairness, for her feelings, for his lack, for his goddamn insensitivity when it was obvious she felt for him. Asking her to come to England, and then what? "Thanks for having me?" The words burned. He might as well have slapped her.
After what felt like hours but according to the clock had been around ten minutes, she calmed herself. The little voice of self-loathing reminded her that she was not some man's plaything, but a strong and independent young woman. That didn't stop her from loving him, but by god it was a start for her to pull herself together. The distance would help. She would avoid him online for a while and then when she re-allowed him into her life she'd tread carefully. Her fist unclenched as she calmed for the first time since his goodbye, and the piece of paper fell into the footwell of her car. His address in England, probably, she thought, and considered throwing it from the vehicle. She was in no mood now, and if she truly wanted to take him up on the offer she could always retrieve the information from him on Skype at a later date. She considered this, but decided no, she would not be so childish. She bent down, opened the note, and read the three words she found there aloud.
She smiled. She laughed.
She folded the paper and threw it from the car window as she dried her eyes and started the engine. There would be no tears clouding her vision on the way home now.
Because real love stories never have a happy ending. The best one can ever hope for is:
"to be continued."